On September 14, Manitoba Music hosted a workshop, Sharpen Your Co-Writing Chops, with songwriter and producer, Murray Pulver. Here’s some pointers from that talk to help you towards more productive and satisfying co-writes…
1. Be open
At the heart of co-writing is a spirit of creative collaboration. In order to get the most out of a session with one or more other writers you need to bring an inclusive, open, and exploratory attitude. You’re there to create something that you couldn’t do on your own, so remember to be excited about the possibility of going off into uncharted territory. Be prepared and willing to explore other writer’s ideas, comments, and criticisms.
2. Have a bag of ideas to draw from
Though it can be very rewarding to start a song from scratch with a group of people, it is super helpful to have some ideas that you can pull from to get started or try and spark that initial inspiration. Song titles, chord changes, lyrics, concepts, and stories are all helpful things to start an idea. You can collect lyric ideas in a notebook, or keep voice memos of melodies on your phone. Don’t show up empty handed.
3. Do your homework
Being prepared with a bag of ideas is important, but so is understanding who you’re writing with and what you’re writing for. Have you listened to some of your songwriting partner’s music? Do you have an understanding of their strengths? If you’re writing for someone else’s project, spend some time thinking about what you can add to their project. What strengths can you contribute?
4. The “hang” is all-important
Writing songs has the potential to be an emotional affair and for some people writing is intensely personal and even therapeutic. It can be difficult to be that vulnerable with someone you don’t know well. Getting to know the people you’re writing with is super important. Developing and nurturing a trusting environment is a great way to foster that sense of openness (see #1). Starting a session by getting a feel for the others in the room and investing a little time into those friendships will lay the groundwork for making great music.
5. Record yourself
When inspiration does strike and you’ve come up with a brilliant idea, make sure to record it. A simple voice memo on your phone is a great way to document what you’ve worked on in your session. This isn’t a demo, just a way to remember that great hook, that perfect phrasing, or those oh-so-satisfying chord changes. You may think that it’s so catchy you’ll never forget it, but even the most infectious melodies are easily lost into the ether if you don’t lay them down.
6. Don’t be greedy with song splits
In most cases, when allocating songwriting credits after a song is completed, the rule of thumb is to divide them equally among all the people who were in the room. Though you may feel like you contributed the majority of the lyrics or the melody, at the end of the day you would not have written the same song if you didn’t have those other people in the room with you. If you’re worrying about quantifying each writer’s contribution then you are missing the spirit of the process. Occasionally you will have a chance to add a few words or tweaks to a song that is almost entirely complete. At that point you may want to consider a lesser split to reflect the fact that you weren’t there for the brunt of the song’s creation. Being considered a team player and a strong asset in a writing session is far more important than getting another 5% of that one song and will open far more doors for you in the long run.
Now, with those tips in mind, get out there and do some co-writing.